Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Brownies - Gluten-Free Baking

I happened to bump into my neighbour the other day just as I was expecting guests to show up. The married couple across from me and I share a common landing and stairwell to the doors of our apartments. Feeling neighbourly, I explained that I had just taken some brownies out of the oven for the friends arriving imminently -- would she like one? She said she would. I ducked into my apartment to grab the plate, and extended it towards her so she could take a brownie. She reached out and grabbed the entire plate with both hands very firmly, then turned to go into her apartment. I was so stunned that I didn't know how to clarify that I was really just offering her a brownie, not the entire batch (or half the batch, really, thankfully they didn't all fit on the same plate). This was why I had told her guests were coming. Her apartment door was then closed. Apparently my communication skills need some work. Then again, those brownies were really good. The aroma had probably been wafting into my neighbour's apartment for the last hour, and maybe she just couldn't help herself when she saw the whole platter.

What made these brownies special was that they were gluten-free, and I had dramatically reduced the fat content. Instead of butter, I substituted a roughly equal amount of homemade applesauce (unsweetened) plus a tablespoon or so of freshly ground flax. My non-celiac guests all reported the brownies had a 'normal' taste and texture - no leftovers.

A lot of people find the idea of gluten-free baking very intimidating. It can be somewhat tedious initially, but like anything practice makes perfect. I've included below my 'lessons learned' from the many kitchen disasters I created while learning to bake without gluten (a rock-hard loaf of "bread" that looked like the surface of the moon comes to mind). I've also listed a few recommendations for gluten-free baking cookbooks.

The brownies were a hit over here, and hopefully my neighbour enjoyed them too!

Gluten-Free Baking Tips
1. Use eggs that are at room temperature, and beat them well. This results in a lighter texture.
2. Measure everything exactly. GF baking is not especially forgiving.
3. Sifting the flours helps.
4. Find a flour mixture that suits your tastes, and then make it in bulk for convenient access (the cookbooks recommended below have a number of good combinations, and I'm sure there are lots of recipes on the internet).
5. You can interchange flours with the same texture. For example, I've used tapioca starch when I was out of potato starch. But, you wouldn't swap rice flour for tapioca starch.
6. Expect everything to take way longer to cook than the regular gluten-containing equivalent.
7. If your breadmaker does not have a gluten-free setting, don't bother trying to make gluten-free bread.
8. There is no shame in using a mix. The brownies I lost to my neighbour were made with a mix from The Gluten-Free Pantry (that's what was on sale this week).
The Mix Company and Judy's Magic Mixes are two family-owned Canadian companies that produce Gluten-Free mixes.

Cookbook recommendations
1000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster
This is a good book for anyone who wants the gluten-free equivalent of a longtime favourite (e.g. strawberry shortcake, etc). This is not really a book that emphasizes healthy substitutions. However, anyone new to the gluten-free diet will tell you that re-experiencing something they thought they had lost forever is pretty exciting. Everything I have made from the cookbook over the years has turned out well (admittedly, I have not tried all 1000 recipes). There is an excellent coffeecake recipe that I used to bring to potlucks and brunches all the time.

Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking by Kelli and Peter Bronski.
Tasty recipes, nice variety of classics (e.g. chocolate chip cookies) and some newbies (e.g. Indian pudding). I remember the cinnamon rolls being especially delicious. They also wrote a cupcake cookbook.  This would probably be a more appropriate recommendation here given we are talking about baking, except that I have not tried it myself. I would expect though based on the Gluten-Free Cookbook, that their Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes would also be really good.

Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free by Amy Green
I first started using Amy Green's recipes when I discovered her blog years ago. I ordered the cookbook as soon as it was published, and it's still one of my favourites. Sometimes, the advertised "20 minutes" is not quite enough prep time for me, but the recipes are all relatively quick and simple. This is the gluten-free book for the person who is of a more health-conscious persuasion.


  1. Warm Greetings!

    Today, I visit your website and after reading your blog i realize that it is very informative. I'm highly impressed to see the comprehensive resources being offered by your site.

    Thanks and Regards

    <a href=" batch mixture

  2. Warm Greetings!

    Today, I visit your website and after reading your blog i realize that it is very informative. I'm highly impressed to see the comprehensive resources being offered by your site.

    Thanks and Regards

    <a href=" mixtur.

  3. Great post (as usual!). Did you ever get your plate back from your neighbour? People really are funny!

    A friend gave us "1000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster" and we really love it! It's like a gf bible!

    1. Still note plate... she did say "Oh, I need to get that plate back to you" the other day though... so, fingers crossed I get it back. :-) I only own 4!